“Work on difficulties of understanding”

Roma family in Southeastern Europe © dpa

Today, Pentecost Sunday, the solidarity campaign of the Catholic Eastern Europe relief organization Renovabis traditionally ends in Heiligenstadt. Renovabis managing director, Burkhard Haneke talks in an interview about problems of understanding between East and West.

Interviewer: They support projects for the renewal of church and social life in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe. "Together. Reconciled. Life. – Together for a Europe of solidarity" is the motto this year, and you wanted to look both east and west. What does this mean concretely for your work?

Burkhard Haneke (Managing Director of Renovabis): This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Renovabis solidarity action. We have since supported social, church and educational projects in 29 countries in Central Eastern and South Eastern Europe. The German bishops founded this latest aid organization of the Catholic Church simply to help the people who lived in the countries behind the "Iron Curtain" until 1989, to renew their society and also to get life going again in the churches. Christians were oppressed and persecuted during that time and could not live their faith.

Interviewer: Where do you see the biggest problems still between East and West?

Haneke: At the moment we see certain problems in the fact that there actually seem to be new problems of understanding between East and West. We don't think they are insurmountable, but we notice that this common idea of Europe no longer exists. In the countries of Central and Southeastern Europe, there was a movement toward Europe, toward freedom. This is also still an unbroken movement. We notice, however, that what one imagines under Europe, for example in Germany, Poland and Hungary, differs a bit. We must try to work on and eliminate these slight difficulties of understanding. We must find our way back to a common Europe.

Interviewer: To what would you attach these slight difficulties in understanding?

Haneke: It is difficult to analyze this precisely. But it certainly also has something to do with the fact that almost 30 years after the fall of the "Iron Curtain", some developments in Eastern Europe have not happened quite as quickly as people had hoped. It is certainly a certain disappointment there. We then always say: Guys, it was not so long ago. We still need some time, you still need some time, and we will find a better standard of life in church and society. We help you with it and there is certainly still much to do, also for a catholic organization like Renovabis.

Interviewer: Kick-off of the Renovabis Whitsun campaign was in the diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart. What happened in the time from 22. April until today happens?

Haneke: We hope of course: very much. Of course we can't follow this over the whole federal territory, what it is. But we have received individual feedback that in parishes very active events were made, where the Renovabis theme "Living reconciled with each other" was then also spelled out. Partners from Eastern European countries were also involved in the process. We have also received feedback that the Pentecost Novena of Renovabis – which is a nine-day prayer that we pray together with Christians in Eastern Europe between Ascension Day and Pentecost – was prayed in parishes and religious communities. This theme of reconciliation is not only about action, but as Christians we say it is also about prayer.

The interview was conducted by Carsten Dopp.

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